CDW, Clarification of Canonical Status, 1993. Private.


A woman representing herself as a religious, a consecrated virgin, a hermit, and one engaged in charismatic renewal wished to develop a new form of consecrated life. She requested approval of the constitutions for this new form from the bishop of a diocese wherein she had lived for a number of years. During that time, she proved problematic to the bishop and the diocesan officials. Eventually, she left but retained a post office box and a local following of persons in the diocese. The woman continued to prevail upon this diocesan bishop through written communication to approve her activities and the constitutions for the new form of consecrated life. The bishop continued to receive complaints and inquires regarding the woman and her activities.

The woman wore religious garb, and used the title of “sister” with initials after her name, even after being advised by the bishop that this was inappropriate. She published a regular periodical, and formed an international network, having traveled quite extensively throughout Europe and the United States. She managed to make contacts with Roman officials and persuaded an archbishop in Rome to consecrate her a virgin.

The diocesan bishop from whom she was seeking approval of her constitutions wrote to the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (CICLSAL) for a clarification of the woman’s canonical status. About the same time, the woman wrote to CICLSAL seeking the same information. The woman received the following reply, a copy of which was sent to the diocesan bishop:




In your recent communications with the Congregation, you have requested a clarification of your canonical status, in order to properly represent yourself to ecclesial authorities. We have examined carefully the documentation which you provided and hope that the following will be helpful to you. While our response will probably be a disappointment to you since it does not fully correspond with your expectations, we hope, nevertheless, it will give assistance in removing some of the doubts which surely are obstacles to a fruitful apostolate.

__________ Third Order Secular: Perpetual profession as a Secular ____________ is the clearest key to your canonical identity. This identifies you as a lay member of the Christian Faithful, living according to the profession and Rule of Life approved by the Church for the Third Order Secular of __________.

While it has sometimes been the practice for Third Order members to assume a new name, such as “Sister___________,” the practice was not

pg. 230

pg. 231
to use this publicly but among the members themselves. We are aware that your assumption of a new name was during the ceremony at ________________, however doing so is not the practice in receiving the Consecration of Virgins.

Consecration of Virgins (c. 604): This consecration is a public and individual form of consecration recognized by the Church. It may be received by women living in the world according to the norms provided in the Introduction to the Rite. Included in these are the following norms from n. 5 regarding women living in the world:

a) always unmarried: never lived in public or open violation of chastity.

b) by age, prudence, and universally approved character should give assurance of perseverance in a life of chastity dedicated to service of the Church and neighbor.

While it is the baptismal register of the Church of baptism which is to receive notice of matters affecting the public canonical status of a person, it does not appear at this time that any such notification would be called for.

In summary, it would seem in the best interests of your apostolic activities to represent yourself as a Secular___________ together with your involvement in the charismatic movement.

The cover letter to the diocesan bishop indicates that the woman can document her status as a Third Order______________ through the provincial superior of the same religious order in the United States. She is thus a lay woman following the _________________ spirituality and living according to the Rule approved for the Third Order Secular of the__________________. Her proposed profession formula manifests also the spirituality of the charismatic movement.

The letter to the bishop further indicates that it could not be clarified that the woman received the Consecration of Virgins according to the approved ritual. This consecration is not simply a question of the minister but of the rite itself. However, the consecration of a woman living in the world does not constitute her as a religious. It is a distinct and individual form of consecrated life recognized by the Church.




CDW, Clarification of Canonical Status, RRAO (1993): 3-5.